B2B Buying Is More Complex
Without question, the B2B buying process has become more complex and difficult to navigate than ever before. In fact, Gartner data shows that 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult. There are many dynamics that have caused this process to become more complex and challenging to navigate. The one with the most influence is the increasing size of the internal buying committee. Each of these groups can consist of upwards of 10 key stakeholders or more. With this number of stakeholders, which many times have competing priorities, agendas, and needs, it is more difficult to reach consensus and ultimately a purchase decision.
In addition to larger buying committees, buyers deal with other complexities, such as:
Being more socially connected to peer groups and thus more influenced by their opinions and decisions;
A higher cost of choosing the wrong vendor (e.g. poor adoption by the organization, career reputation, negative impact on company morale);
Increasing numbers of millennials entering leadership positions and thus buying committees; and
Information overload from vendors.
All these factors together have made the traditional, linear sales model obsolete. Sales and marketing leaders have to come to terms with the fact that the buying cycle is much more fluid and that buyers will come in and out of phases as they please. They also come to expect to be able to get the information they want when they want it whether it comes from sales or marketing. This is why sales and marketing must act more like an integrated revenue-generating system that orchestrates its interactions with the buyer to be focused on delivering value at every touchpoint the buyer has with the company. By working together seamlessly, sales and marketing remove unnecessary friction in the buying process and improve the overall buying experience, which we’ve seen have a direct impact on improving close rates.
Shift From Leads To Engagement
For marketing teams to be successful in the new B2B marketplace, they must move beyond looking at themselves as just a “lead mill”. The days of sitting in a silo generating massive amounts of leads (or MQLs) and throwing them over the fence to sales are over. Instead, marketing must start providing engaging content at each stage of the buyer’s journey that is focused on helping the buyer achieve what they need to at each phase of their journey – not what we want them to know about us. Digital disruption has completely changed the buyer-seller relationship and because buyers have nearly unlimited access to information, B2B companies are being forced to become truly customer-centric. Most companies are still in the process of understanding how to transition their content from being 100% self-serving to being focused on the needs of the buyer. And feedback from buyers agrees that there is more work to be done as 65% of B2B buyers believe too much vendor-provided content is self-serving.2
This means marketing teams must move away from producing content that is just focused on getting a lead to delivering content that is focused on empowering the buyer to make the best decision for their unique business challenges. This also means that content must become more personalized and address the individual concerns and priorities of each persona the sales team needs to engage. We can no longer give that same “sell sheet” to the CEO, head of marketing, IT lead, and the end-user. The information they need to make an informed decision can be, and in many cases is, vastly different.
In addition, marketing teams must focus their content strategy within the context of the customer journey. Think about how you buy in your personal life. If you were to find out tomorrow that you had a leak coming from your roof would you automatically go to the Jeff Davis Plumbing Company branded website? Probably not – unless you had already worked with me in the past or I had established a relationship with you in some way. More than likely the first thing you would do is go to the web and type “best plumber near me” and pray you get in contact with someone that has good reviews and can help you diagnose what’s causing the leak. B2B buyers are no different. Once they realize that something isn’t working in their business they go right to the web to educate themselves so they can better understand what issues they are actually dealing with. They are not coming to your branded website as their first stop. Thus, marketing is more effective when it uses content as a way to meaningfully engage the target buyer into a sales conversation and then continues to support the buyer along their road to becoming a brand advocate.
Modify The Marketing Structure
While more and more marketing teams are adopting the practice of developing journey maps, the strategies they deploy are still heavily focused on promoting their product or service – not addressing the needs of the target buyer. In a new report, “Predictions 2020: B2B Marketing and Sales”, Forrester, in fact, found that only 40% of marketing teams prioritize solving customers’ problems over promoting products. That means that the majority of marketing teams (60%) are still primarily focused on “pushing product.” As B2B buyers continue to have amazing buying experiences outside of work that are obsessively focused on helping them with their personal needs, their expectations of the typical B2B buying process they encounter in the workplace are changing. This is why we’ve seen customer experience (CX) increase in importance over price and product in recent years. It’s frustrating to experience the ease of buying from standout B2C companies such as Amazon, Zappos, Birchbox and more and then come to work and be inundated with vendor content that is all about how amazing their company and products are. Marketing teams thus need to reorganize themselves to be able to support what the buyer needs at each stage of the buying journey rather than solely focus on industry segment or specific channel. Marketing leaders would be better served to create mini teams or pods that support the different stages of the buyer’s journey through multiple engagement methods (i.e. email, social, field marketing, etc.)
Use Sales Enablement to Orchestrate Buyer Experiences
Marketing, however is not the only one connecting with the target buyer throughout the buying journey. As we move from the traditional lead hand-off to a more fluid engagement strategy, marketing leaders must increasingly understand how their activities directly support sales in achieving their goals and impact revenue. Thus, both sales and marketing leaders should look at their functional touchpoints with the customer as interactions. No longer does sales or marketing own a part of the funnel. Together, they must orchestrate buyer experiences that empower the buyer to make the best buying decision for their unique business challenge. One way marketing leaders can do this is by working closely with their Sales Enablement counterpart. The Sales Enablement function has a great vantage point, and sometimes technology, that can help the marketing team not only better understand what resources the sales team needs, but also where the optimal opportunities exist to integrate their interactions with the buyer after sales has started a conversation with them. In addition, the sales enablement function is a great ally in helping marketing quantify the impact of their activities and further demonstrate their contribution to pipeline and ultimately to revenue growth.
The best way to make the transition from an MQL-focused strategy to an engagement-focused strategy is to map out the buyer’s journey and then have marketing, sales enablement, and sales partner together to ensure that adequate interactions (sales and/or marketing) exist at each stage of the buyer’s journey. These interactions must be focused on what the buyer needs to accomplish or questions they need to answer for them to feel comfortable moving to the next stage of their journey. In my book, Create Togetherness, I encourage leaders of each of these functions to get together and audit all of their current interactions (or content) to identify where gaps exist in helping the buyer achieve their goals moving through the different stages of their journey. Then, they are able to strategize about how to close these gaps by deploying resources that the team already has or creating new resources that address a specific need.
To orchestrate the best interactions for buyers, leaders should go through the following steps:
Know the six stages of the modern buying cycle
Understand the buyer’s motivations during each stage of the cycle
Be aware of all the buyer-seller interactions in each stage so sales and marketing can navigate buyers through the cycle seamlessly
Map Interactions Throughout the Modern Buying Cycle
Stage 1: Problem Naive
Buyer mindset: Buyers are unaware they have a major business problem.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Sellers (sales and marketing) should focus on creating a disruptive, emotional, and compelling message to awaken the buyer to the significant business issues they face. Sellers should also focus on helping buyers
Resources to leverage: Video marketing, Influencer marketing, and Social media marketing/social selling
Stage 2: Realization
Buyer Mindset: Once target buyers realize their business faces challenges, they will research all issues to discover the specific business problems they face.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Sellers should focus on educating buyers to help them understand all the relevant variables so they can narrow the possible causes. Once the problem is discovered, the extent must be quantified so the buyer has the necessary information to discern the depth of the problem. For example, when a roof leaks, can it be patched or must it be replaced entirely? These are similar solutions but on a different scale. Taking a consultative approach over a traditional sales approach creates a relationship built on trust and service. Helping the buyer with all aspects of the problems adds a level of respect that is lacking in the traditional sales approach.
Resources to leverage: SEO/SEM, Social media marketing/social selling, Podcasts, Speaking at trade shows/conferences, Analyst reports, eBooks
Stage 3: Exploration
Buyer mindset: With a clear understanding of the business problems they face, buyers now look to explore all the potential solutions available.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Sellers should help buyers understand the different types of solutions that could potentially be used to resolve their business issues. Sellers should help buyers weigh the pros and cons of each option as well as consider how their choice will impact their long-term company goals.
Resources to leverage: Third-party review site listings, Case studies, Product webinar, Sales demo, Educational field marketing events
Stage 4: Confirmation
Buyer mindset: Now that buyers understand which solutions show promise of being a good fit, they look to confirm the specific capabilities required for their unique business challenge and organizational dynamics. These criteria will help them develop a shortlist of vendors and ultimately be able to choose the right one for the company.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Sellers should focus on demonstrating to the buyer that they understand what solution capabilities are important to them. Sellers can also share how other companies with similar profiles have been able to leverage their solution successfully. If it is clear what capabilities are most important to the buyer, sellers may want to provide a direct comparison to competitors that shows how their solution is a better match.
Resources to leverage: Competitor comparison charts, Solution impact calculators, Personalized sales videos, Consultative sales call
Stage 5: Decision
Buyer mindset: Target buyers are clear which solutions can meet their needs and make a final decision on which company they think will be the best fit. Many factors beyond solution capabilities come into play, such as the overall buying experience and how they envision working with the company.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Seller should focus on demonstrating how intimately they understand the company’s goals and will act as a trusted advisor and partner to help them achieve those goals. Interactions should be highly personalized and feel as if they have already started working with the seller.
Resources that can be used: Free trial, Customer success stories, Testimonials, Personalized implementation plan
Stage 6: Evaluation
Buyer Mindset: Once the buyer becomes a customer, they are continually evaluating whether they made the right decision, are achieving the results they expected, and want to continue working with the vendor. This cycle will begin again when the seller helps the buyer uncover another problem they can help solve or the buyer wishes to expand its use of the company’s products or services.
Buyer-seller interactions that will resonate: Seller should focus on reinforcing the reasons why the buyer chose to work with the company. These interactions should continue to build trust and demonstrate the seller’s commitment to ensuring success. The buyer should feel like they’ve added a strategic partner to the team to help them achieve their company goals.
Resources to leverage: Customer success services, Scheduled follow-ups from sales to ensure progress, Content that shows major milestones that the customer can expect to accomplish, Comparison benchmarks
As sales and marketing teams work in this new highly aligned and integrated way focused on the buyer’s journey, sales enablement can play a huge role in helping ensure that both teams are communicating effectively and that they can both measure the impact that their interactions are having on the buyer. This allows leadership to evaluate the effectiveness of the Revenue Engine and ensure it is effectively engaging the modern buyer, guiding them through the buying process, and ultimately facilitating them in reaching consensus around making a buying decision.
Predictions 2020: B2B Marketing and Sales (Forrester)